Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Thursday what Steelers Nation has been thinking all week.
"We talked a lot of talk about the offense in training camp. It's time we start backing it up."
An offense that scored 7 points against the Baltimore Ravens, 16 against the Indianapolis Colts and 10 against the Houston Texans isn't what Arians had in mind when he delayed his retirement after the Super Bowl last season at the urging of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "Even [in the 24-0 win] against Seattle, we left 14 points on the field," he said.
No one saw this coming.
Wasn't it just a month ago that some predicted the Steelers offense would be the most prolific in franchise history?
It has been anything but.
A lot of people are quick to blame Arians. It's funny, hardly anyone criticizes defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau even though his men are just as much at fault for the 2-2 start because they haven't stopped the run, haven't gotten sacks and haven't forced turnovers. But no one is afraid to blast away at Arians. Many truly believe they can call the plays better.
"That's fine, point all the fingers right here," Arians said. "Send all the cards and letters to me."
Arians' thinking is sound:
The more criticism for him, the less for Roethlisberger, the offensive line, running back Rashard Mendenhall ...
Of course, Arians doesn't have to actually read his, ah, fan mail to know what the would-be play-callers would do if they had his position. He addressed a few of the suggestions:
• Throw more slants and quick passes.
"We've thrown a bunch of 'em. Mike Wallace has gotten a ton of his yards after slants. We've missed on other plays that have hurt us because the young wide receivers have missed a few [hot reads]. Antonio [Brown] missed one the other day that Ray Charles could have seen. It was truly a young guy mistake."
• Use tight end Heath Miller more as a receiver.
"You'd love to have him own the middle of the field, but teams are very aware of him. He always gets a lot of attention."
• Use Miller less as a receiver and more as a blocker to protect Roethlisberger.
"We're probably 50-50 with Heath staying in and going out. In a perfect world, you'd love to have him never in and always out. But it's not a perfect world. We've keep him in to help a tackle and kept the back in to help the other tackle ...
"You talk about max protect. But if you keep everyone in to block and only send out two receivers, it's not going to help you. They'll get to the quarterback sooner or later because no one is going to be open."
• Have Roethlisberger roll out more to avoid pressure.
"The problem with sprinting out is you shut down half the field. You might win on first down once in a while doing that, but you're never going to win on third down because teams will roll their coverage. You're begging for interceptions."
• Instruct Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quickly and not hold on to it trying to make a big play.
"You can't change who you are. I don't want Ben to change. He's the most successful young quarterback in the history of the game. Three Super Bowls in six years. No, I don't want him to change."
• Run the ball more with Ike Redman and less with Mendenhall.
"Red has done a good job with his opportunities. He hasn't failed us yet. But [Mendenhall] is the guy. It all starts with him. He's a feature back in this league ...
"One thing people don't realize is that, by the time Red comes into a game, we've figured some things out with the run game and he's taken advantage of it. The same thing with Mewelde [Moore]. People underestimate his value to us, but all he does is win games. He comes in with fresh legs and you can see that burst. Coach [Bear] Bryant taught me a long time ago that you always save fresh legs for the end. Mewelde gives us that. I'm really going to miss having him this week [because of an ankle injury]."
• Run the ball more, period.
"We've got to play better in the run game, I agree with that. That's why it was nice the way we ran the ball in the second half [against the Texans]. But then we broke down in our play-action protection. That was the most disappointing thing to me. We should have done a better job there and taken advantage of the way we were running the ball."
At this point, it's worth noting that there is nothing wrong with Arians' offensive philosophy. It was good enough to get the Steelers to the Super Bowl last season. It was good enough to help them win the Super Bowl after the 2008 season. But, clearly, the execution needs to be better.
"It all starts with the run game," Arians said. He expects the Steelers to be successful Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field with some combination of Mendenhall, who has a hamstring injury, Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.
The wide receivers have to be better. "They have to work a little harder and get open a little quicker," Arians said. "And if they double-cover one, the guy in single coverage had better win because the quarterback is going to be looking for him."
Obviously, the line has to do a better job protecting Roethlisberger. "I think you'll see a big difference with us being at home this week," Arians said. "People don't understand how difficult it is to pass-block on the road. When you have to use a silent count because of the crowd noise and you're even a fraction of a second off, you're beaten. It happened once to [tackle] Marcus Gilbert [against the Texans]. He had no chance on that play. I'm eager to see how those guys play this week. I'm eager to see what the offense can do."
Arians grinned when asked if he had any regrets about postponing that retirement. "Absolutely not. I love working with this group. It's a great group. It's a long season. We still can be the offense that we expect to be."
Just in case you're still thinking Arians maybe has lost confidence in his offense or his play-calling ...
Check this out.
"I won't be retiring until after the Super Bowl."
So the talk continues.
It really is time to back it up.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.